The “Cannabis Safety Act” is dangerous to Michiganders
Everyone in Michigan should care about what’s happening with our state’s marijuana legislature right now.
Yes: I mean you.
Because, whether you realize it or not, it affects us all. Every one of us either is, or has in our life a person who at one point or another will suffer from some debilitating illness which could be eased by medical cannabis therapy. As even my own well-respected family doctor points out with enthusiasm, Canibus therapy eliminates the concern over drug-to-drug interactions, risk of addiction or overdose, liver toxicity, or damaging side effects.
The truth of the matter is access to quality, affordable cannabis is critical to the people who tend to fall to the bottom of society. People with chronic physical and mental illnesses; children with severe autism, and their parents; adults recovering from prescription opioid addiction, or other pharmaceutical addictions. Veterans, and those disabled due to work-induced injury or PTSD. Cancer patients. Elders who are receiving end of life care.
These are the people who stand to benefit the most from affordable access to medical-grade cannabis products. And by medical-grade, I’m not just talking about high potency. I’m talking about select terpene profiles, select cannabinoid distillates, Rick Simpson Oil (RSO), topical salves, capsules, enemas, tea bags — products designed to target specific ailments, and to be delivered in ways that accommodate for specific disabilities.
Yes. Some medical patients swear by their caregiver’s RSO enema. Say nothing else touches the pain without making them a zombie.
This is why the issue of access to medical cannabis is so emotionally charged among advocate communities. Because cannabis advocates understand how impactful this is to everyday folk. To, as Jesus would say: the least of these.
It’s why a lot of folks are so freaked out over the proposed House Bills 5300–5302 and 5319–5322, aka the “Cannabis Safety Act”. Hundreds of patients, caregivers, and medical practitioners have flooded our state’s Capitol this month, and boycotts and protests against members of the MCMA, like Skymint, have raged across the state for weeks.
People who understand the bill’s purpose are upset. Because people tend to get upset when they know they’re being gaslit by their own civil servants.
And it’s why I’m writing this now. Normally I get paid for my independent journalism. I’m writing this as an opinion piece because I’m tired of pulling my punches. My fellow Michiganders need to know what’s really going on in this industry — whether they’re red, blue, purple, or green. It concerns our health and the health of our loved ones; it concerns our freedom as citizens; and it concerns the freedom of our markets.
I’m going to explain why, and I’m going to do my best to do so simply, and briefly. But I need you to buckle up, and grab some coffee. Because our state’s regulation of the cannabis industry is complicated. By design.
A brief history of Michigan’s legal cannabis industry
The problem with monopolies is that they handcuff the invisible hand of the free market. Corporations big enough to control their own regulation and supply chains aren’t operating under the laws of supply and demand, they’re operating under their own rules. This ultimately means that consumers don’t get what they want, they get what corporations want to sell them — and they get it at a premium price.
This is, unfortunately, becoming the case in Michigan’s cannabis industry.
The very short version is that Michigan’s legal cannabis industry supply has gone from being 100% craft batch, caregiver grown and processed product to being mostly large-scale grown, lab processed product, in a time span of about four years.
Quality has plummeted. Availability of medical products has plummeted. And prices have gone up. You know: exactly the opposite of what the free market is supposed to do.
“Caregiver” is the legal designation Michigan’s 2008 medical marijuana law gave to individuals who are legally permitted to grow and sell cannabis, to their registered patients. It’s caregivers who’ve been pioneering the development of the medical products I listed earlier. What exactly caregivers are allowed to do with their “overages” — or excess product — has ranged from supplying dispensaries and caregiver clubs to destroying it, depending on the whims of the state, local township, and law enforcement, which at times have changed literally overnight.
The state didn’t pass legislature to properly regulate the market and create state licenses for commercial-scale growing operations until 2017, when caregivers started getting phased out of the market. You’d think that the newly licensed commercial growers have picked up where caregivers left off, and have made these products more accessible. This is not the case. In fact: it’s quite the opposite.
Unfortunately, these large grows have not been hiring phased out caregivers to oversee their facilities and processing. Instead, caregivers’ expertise is scorned, and they’re expected to be grateful to pick up a $12/hr budtending job slinging terpeneless prerolls for Skymint.
I won’t spend the time here detailing the timeline of Michigan’s 2008 medical legislature; the nine year span in which the industry was allowed to operate completely unregulated and arbitrarily enforced; the way in which large out of state investors were favored for the earliest licenses by Governor Rick Snyder and Attorney General Bill Schuette’s , and corrupt local municipalities from 2017–2019, or how caregivers have been systemically shut out of the industry since its regulation began in 2017. If you care to know, I’ve covered these topics pretty comprehensively on Leafly.com.
What’s important to know is this: the Snyder-Schuette administration, countless Republican members of the state House and Senate, and the lobbyists who paid them, have worked to actively undermine the voters’ legalization of medical cannabis by forcing the industry to operate in an unregulated “gray market” from 2008 until 2017. The only reason regulation was passed in 2017 is because it became clear to the administration that a voter-led legalization of recreational marijuana in 2018 was inevitable, and the administration saw the opportunity for big business to profit off a regulated market.
Caregivers were, legislatively speaking, always set up to fail as a commercial industry. Because greed, and ignorant bias. The proposed Cannabis Safety Act could be the final nail.
The state’s history of persecuting caregivers & the medical incompetence of large grows
I’ll get to HB 5300–5302 here shortly, but I need to take a moment to emphasize the incredible legal persecution caregivers — aka medical cannabis providers — in Michigan have faced since its legalization in 2008.
Growers operating within the vague outlines of 2008’s medical marijuana legislation were treated like criminals in their own community. Midnight raids on caregivers with their legal allotment of plants and children in the house. Charging dispensary owners operating under last month’s township regulations with federal crimes. Jailing patients with chronic illness. Raiding and confiscating $10,000s of product from caregivers who were growing within their township guidelines.
For Christ’s sake, as late as 2018, NBA star Al Harrington’s Viola brand, a multimillion dollar grow facility in Detroit, was raided by the police, resulting in $2M of equipment being “stolen”, over a zoning change that had LITERALLY been made behind closed doors, the night before, unbeknownst to the operators. The manager was holding out their permit paperwork with her hands raised when the cops knocked it out of her hand and pointed a gun at her.
Just straight up unapologetic, blatant thuggery, ironic considering the Fox News Republican types responsible for this mess, never miss a chance to paint NBA stars like Harrington as the lawless criminals. Do they own mirrors?
It was like the Spanish Inquisition, but for medical marijuana growers. They were villainized by the police and press as dangerous criminals, endangering the community and their children.
They were growing plants that helped people with their depression and their pain. That’s what they were doing. Literally no one in the history of cannabis use has died from an overdose of cannabis. That’s a fact — look it up. Richard Nixon’s advisor, John Erlichman, admitted that marijuana was labeled a schedule 1 narcotic in the 1971 Drug Act specifically to break up and disempower black communities, his famous Harpers interview with Dan Baum. Its classification as dangerous has always been ludicrous, and motivated by greed. That’s not conspiracy — that’s just history.
Michigan marijuana caregivers have faced serious persecution at the hands of state and local authorities, for growing plants that make people feel better. And yes — god forbid — for sometimes making a profit.
Now they’re expected to give up the livelihoods and skillsets they’ve worked, some for over a decade to build, in exchange for what has been described as “Wal-Mart jobs” — jobs which leave a huge gap of unmet demand in the market.
As for this latest rash of apparent concern over the “safety” of marijuana products…it’s beyond laughable. If there’s been any safety problem historically with caregiver product in Michigan, substantiated by any kind of data, it’s been lead and heavy metal content from water, which are a result of our failed municipal water systems — not of caregivers. Mold is, of course, every bud grower’s enemy number one, and smoking moldy product can be quite dangerous to your health, it’s true. But this is not a thing that’s happening in the industry, at any noticeable level. I’ve literally never heard anyone, in all my interviews and networking and research, tell me a story about anyone getting moldy product, or getting sick from smoking moldy bud from caregivers. Which isn’t to say it doesn’t or can’t ever happen. It’s simply to say that there’s no way it’s a prevailing problem which requires a corrective action.
I have, on the other hand, had plenty of people tell me about — and have myself experienced — useless bud sold by Skymint which was so terpeneless and impotent it had to be recalled. Or THC distillates sold by Fluresh which are not only not effective for their intended purpose, but give heart palpitations and anxiety attacks.
When my father in law, diagnosed with end stage pancreatic cancer, went to Grand Rapids’ multimillion dollar grow facility and dispensary, Fluresh, for cannabis to help him with nausea, pain, and sleep, their budtender gave him a THC distillate. That might not mean anything to someone unfamiliar with medical cannabis, so let’s just say giving an elderly cancer patient a THC distillate to help their pain and nausea would be like giving someone who’s having an allergic histamine reaction a sugar cookie. That sugar cookie might be a necessary stopgap for diabetics, but for an allergic reaction, it’s not only useless, but could even exacerbate the reaction.
Any budtender who knows anything should know better than to give a THC distillate to an elderly cancer patient. That’s ludicrous levels of incompetence. And it kept my father in law up all night with sweats and heart palpitations. The tea I made him, however, from my own homegrown flower, eased his pain and nausea in fifteen minutes, and allowed him to eat and sleep for the first time in days. My husband, who uses high THC strains to treat his PTSD, tried the distillate they gave his dad, and threw it out after it have him an anxiety attack.
The moral of the story is that big growers like Fluresh have no clue what they’re doing in the healthcare space, and are actually hurting medical patients. Meanwhile, they’re replacing caregivers — the ones who actually have industry expertise.
And let’s not forget: caregivers have been supplying their patients, with little to no oversight of their product, for over a decade now. Where’s this sudden concern from Republican lobbyists over caregiver patients’ safety coming from?
What is the “Cannabis Safety Act”?
It’s complicated, that’s what.
So I’m going to break down the key bits of House Bills 5300–5302 & 5319–5322 into bullets:
- Limits caregivers’ number of patients they can have, which is currently five, to one, bringing their maximum allowance of plants down from 60 to 12 — currently the same number allotted to homegrowers. This removes any incentive caregivers have to operate under a caregiver license. It effectively shuts down the caregiver program.
- A new “specialty medical grower” designation is made which mimicks caregivers currently — but which imposes a litany of costly and impractical restrictions, and is basically a joke.
What’s in between the lines of the bill, and has been supported by many statements made by Linder, is that this bill lays the foundation for making more sweeping changes to the voter enacted cannabis laws. Specifically: destroying citizens’ homegrow rights.
If this bill passes, you can guarantee the MCMA will be back for home growing, with even bigger guns.
I will note that not all caregivers are opposed to more regulation, including the testing of their products. Some of them agree that it’s even necessary to rewrite or update the caregiver program, and are happy to play ball with more oversight and regulation, as long as it means they get to continue doing the work that’s important to them — and to their patients.
So, to be clear, the pushback from caregivers and patients on the Cannabis Safety Act isn’t about rejecting reasonable regulation.
This is not reasonable regulation. This is an iron gate. And it’s a stab at the heart of the hard-fought freedoms of the 2008 and 2018 voter initiatives, which were designed to definitively end the cannabis prohibition in Michigan.
Now even homegrow — of which we in Michigan enjoy some of the greatest freedoms in the country — could fall on the chopping block of corporate greed.
It should go without saying that one of the best ways to make cannabis affordable and accessible to people who need it is to let people grow their own. At home. In their garden. In the sunshine. It’s free to plant seeds, and there’s a reason cannabis is referred to as “weed”. As I wrote about last year, homegrowing has become a critical part of Michigan’s cannabis activity, by individuals who don’t have a caregiver and can’t afford to pay over $800 per month for low quality bud from dispensaries to treat their depression, or who need specific strains and products which they’ve learned to make themselves. Or by sweet old ladies who love gardening and making their own arthritis salve.
There was this one time I found a sweet old lady wandering around a posh dispensary looking a little bewildered, so I started chatting with her, and discovered she loved gardening and had arthritis. I ended up giving her what she really wanted in the first place: a handful of plump, Michigan-outdoor-grown cannabis seeds. As a gift, of course. Which is 100% legal under the 2018 voter enacted cannabis laws.
Yet homegrown cannabis is neither taxed or tested, and therefore it makes zero revenue for the state, and zero revenue for cannabusiness. Thus, it is placed under the label of “gray market” by most media and legislators, even though it’s 100% legal. Sometimes it’s even lumped into the black market, as MCMA executive director Stephen Linder had equated many times, including in his lengthy testimony at the public input hearing on the legislature October 4th.
This is patently false. People growing up to 12 cannabis plants in their home garden are NOT participating in a “black market,” but exercising their legal right under state law.
The only players in Michigan’s cannabis industry who have a serious problem with the marijuana so-called gray market — aka caregiver patient sales and product overages, and home growers — are the MCMA cannabusinesses which covet their lost market share. Such as Skymint.
Of course, I’d like to suggest to the commercial grows that if they’re scared of caregivers and home gardeners, they could explore making better and more diverse products as a cheaper and more effective alternative to criminalizing their competition. But what do I know? I’m just a journalist.
The impact on medical marijuana patients — aka the “least of these”
As it turns out, there’s little profit margin to be had with labor-intensive, craft-batch quality medical grade products like RSO, enemas, and terpene distillates. Also, many medical patients have, by now, developed a relationship with a reliable caregiver who can cater batches to their specific needs. So the large-scale commercial manufacturers — which is most manufacturers now, thanks to the monopolization of the early regulated industry under the Snyder administration — simply don’t make them.
That means that although cannabis dispensaries are quite common in many Michigan towns and cities, very few, if any of them stock medical grade products like RSO. Having a caregiver is usually the only way to get them.
That would be less than ideal for new medical patients who don’t know how to find a caregiver, but it wouldn’t be terrible, if we left it at that. Medical patients can continue to use the caregiver program, which is more of a craft-grow model, while recreational customers use the mainstream products from dispensaries.
But the Cannabis Safety Act aims to slash caregivers’ ability to grow — which means that there will be little to no medical product supply available for Michigan’s hundreds of thousands of medical patients.
Patients like 15 year old Jayden, whose struggle with severe autism has been transformed by cannabis, take this as a personal attack, as any of us would if we were to find ourselves in such a position.
“Please don’t take away my medicine,” is what his mother told me Jayden planned to say during his testimony at Lansing’s hearing on the 4th. But, during the 15 minutes allotted to naysayers (out of a 60 minute public input session), Jayden wasn’t given the chance to speak. Nor were the parents of six month old Anastasia, who has been healthy and free from debilitating seizures since she was 3 months old, thanks to cannabis therapies. Nor were countless others — including physicians.
Question: if this bill is about patient safety, why were so many medical marijuana patients, experts, and physicians not given the chance to speak?
The reality is that if this bill does become law, it will drive a huge number of medical patients underground, and will force caregivers with desperate patients to operate in a black market. If it opens the door for legislature which restricts homegrows, it will force many homegrows to become clandestine. It will criminalize respected growers, medical patients, and citizens exercising their rights to garden.
People won’t stop needing, growing, and providing medical cannabis products. They won’t suddenly be able to afford a 50–200% price increase on less targeted, lower quality medicine. They’ll do what we Michiganders always do: get resourceful, buy from the Amish, and do it their damn selves.
Meet the bill’s sponsoring representatives and lobbyists
The bills themselves are sponsored by Republican state House Representatives Lilly, Steenland, and Clements. The lobbying group pushing the bill is the opaque Michigan Cannabis Manufacturer Association, which represents less than half of commercial licensees in the state. They declined to share with me a list of their funding members, but the list is rumored to include the likes of Skymint, RedBud, and Fluresh, to name a few.
Skymint has been under boycott by customers and patients across Michigan for their support of anti-voter lobbying, their monopolization of the industry, and their poor product quality.
Longtime Republican lobbyist Stephen Linder is the executive director of the MCMA, and the mouthpiece of the bill. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, of course, has enthusiastically supported the bill, as well as a few municipal and law enforcement organizations, including the Michigan Township Association.
Exactly who or what entity(ies) funded the formation of the MCMA, Linder’s salary, and other municipal support, lies buried beneath layers of anonymous holding companies. We can tell who the major players are by simply looking at volume of financial incentive (ie investment in commercial cannabis) in shutting down all but the commercial market. Right now, Skymint seems to be leading the way. Word on the street is that there’s a multi-state cannabusiness merger on the horizon.
One Cannabusiness to rule them all.
This bill isn’t just about cannabis regulation. It’s about corporate interests having the power to overturn the will of the people, and to destroy the free market.
Their transparently lame argument
Mouthpiece Linder and his colleagues supporting this bill seem to have forgotten what state they’re in. His argument at the October 4th hearing, which was not time limited as the public’s were, consisted of comparing bottles of alcohol and over the counter allergy medication he’d purchased from the store, cannabis products from a major commercial facility, and what he claimed was caregiver product in a plastic baggie. He proceeded to wring his hands over the lack of labelling and lab testing information on the caregiver product, lamenting that “we have no idea where it came from!”, insisting that Michigan consumers expect their products to be fully regulated and taxed, like these other products.
Sponsoring Republican Rep. Lilly made some placating remarks about how the new system will “encourage entrepreneurship,” referring to the restrictive new specialty grower designation.
Some absurd statements were made by Rep. Gary Howell (R) about communities being overrun with “dangerous” caregiver growhouses, rambling that even though he was “sure some caregivers are not criminals,” that “There’s a ton of them that are criminals, and they’re all taking over my county.”
I can summarize my response to these arguments in two words:
First of all, Representative Howell has watched too many cartel movies, I think. It also sounds like he’s not clear on what constitutes a “criminal”. A criminal is someone who is breaking the law, not someone who in your yacht-owning, boomerly view looks shady. If he’s representing his county, he should be able to work with the local police to definitively know whether or not people are breaking the law. What’s with all this “I’m sure SOME are nice people, but the rest are criminals” nonsense? You’re supposed to be a professional, Howell. Bring facts or shut up.
Lilly’s comments about the bill encouraging entrepreneurship are just outright lies, even if Linney has convinced himself they’re true. See: specialty medical grow licenses are a joke.
As for Linder’s cartoonish presentation — I think it was best countered by a medical patient at the hearing who commented that she knew where her “unlabeled” medical products came from because she received it from the hand of her caregiver, whom she’d known for years.
Linder’s presumptions about what Michigan consumers want would be laughable if they weren’t so dangerously well funded.
This is not a state where we value and expect tight regulation, testing, and taxing. This is a state where informal and barter economies are thriving, particularly in agricultural communities. From the Amish to home craft brewers and winemakers to cowshares to farmer CSAs to bartering with home batch maple syrup to trading white collar services with colleagues, we Michigan folk understand the value of the so-called “unregulated market”. The ultimate product safety is looking your farmer in the eye and walking his greenhouses; it’s buying milk from the dairy farmer whose cows are happily lowing in green, chemical-free pastures outside the window.
If I grow and cure my own wild tobacco blend from nicotania rustica, mullein, rabbit tobacco, and hawthorn, and roll it into cigarettes, will Republican legislators want to test and tax that, too? How about my 15–30 gallons of maple syrup I produce and gift/barter each year — will I be required to submit that to testing and taxation as well? How about vegetable and fruit stands? Farmer’s market products? Home processed venison? You-pick berries? Craft show preserves?
Are they going to demand I register a license for making my family wildcrafted herbal medicines?
I think Mr. Linder has forgotten that he’s in Michigan, home to a very independent and very agriculturally inclined populace. Also Amish. We don’t take kindly to over regulation and micromanagement. And we love our informal economies.
If our state legislators take the same attitude to small scale and home hobby agriculture that is being taken towards medical cannabis production in this bill, none of us will be able to buy from the Amish or farmer’s market ever again. Police will trash farmstands and raid our homes for unlicensed home brewing setups and untested homemade maple syrup.
That may sound hyperbolic, but I’m merely pointing out the logical end conclusion of Linder’s logic.
All in the name of “safety”.
I know it’s probably a very unpopular opinion, but if there’s any problem in this state with dangerous, unregulated substances, I’d say that substance is clearly lobbying income to our city and state officials and media outlets. Corporate money is flowing, completely unregulated, into the pockets of our elected civil servants and media, with the goal of destroying the free market. THIS is the truly dangerous, addictive narcotic which is tearing apart communities and causing violence. The poison which is handicapping communities’ ability to be self-reliant, and resilient.
If we’re so concerned about regulating and taxing dangerous substances, let’s regulate and tax the corporate income our civil servants receive. And if we’re going to criminalize anyone for promoting the sale of toxic, addictive substances, it should be lobbyists — not people who grow plants that make people feel nice.
Forget criminalizing caregivers and home growers. Let’s criminalize lobbyists. Let’s put Mr. Linder out of a job. I bet he could afford to retire quite comfortably any time he’d like, anyway.
If he doesn’t like the prospect of regulating things that are actually dangerous, perhaps he should shut his ignorant mouth and go home to his mansion where he can regulate his dogs to his heart’s content.
As to the commercial cannabis operators supporting this nonsense, I suggest that if you lower your profit margin to make way for lower margin medical products, hire caregivers to run your facilities, quit wrapping everything in plastic and unnecessary packaging, and generally make better product, you’ll end up netting much higher profits in a few years than you will spending all this overhead on lobbying and running PR defense.
In other words: the high road is always more sustainable. Just do good sustainable business. Triple bottom line is more than just a label, and it’s not rocket science.
As for we residents of Michigan: call your representatives and tell them in no uncertain terms to torpedo this bill. Call your senators and tell them it’s dead on arrival. Ask your local dispensary if their business is a member of the MCMA. If the answer is yes, boycott them, and tell them why.
Remind our elected officials who they work for: we the people.